What I learnt in my HBS 2+2 deferral years

I am a big believer in building in public so this is my report from my experience in the deferral years before I went to HBS. I was admitted into the 2+2 program/graduated in 2017.

In those years I went down a crazy rabbit hole as an emerging markets startup operator and investor [Fintech/Consumer], but first three bloopers on some unexpected things that happened to me during these years:

  • Got impersonated by an unknown blogger, who penned articles under my name, and went viral on Chinese media
  • Gained 30 kgs in 4 years
  • I invested in Chia token for the meme potential and waiting to break even. No affiliation.

It’s always down to the people who you share your experiences with

  • A selection of the bosses I worked for that were amazingly fun to be around, and whom we did meaningful work together on, building and investing into companies: Chris Sirise [Saison Capital], Bart van Dijk [Rocket Internet/Daraz], Youri Doeleman [Antler]. One of the things I appreciated the most, which I believed was helpful in unnaturally accelerating my learning curve, was being given the trust and freedom to experiment with new ways of doing things — to be allowed to iterate and learn.
  • 4 of the most low-key (barely any SM presence), smartest builders and investors who have significantly shaped the way I think about things, who are killing it in the startup/VC space, and that will hopefully let me write about them one day: Viren Shetty [US], Akshay Bajaj [SEA], Vardhan Kapoor [SEA], Saket Kumar [EU]
  • Many hundreds of kind and brilliant people who were generous with their time, energy and advice in guiding me through life and my decisions.

I got a better sense of my motivations:

  • To work with kind, extremely smart, low-ego people to solve important problems
  • To be unapologetically profit-oriented — to build the foundation to do good.
  • To continue building out the vision of the Internet — Free information and human connections delivered to those who can use it, for the benefit of social progress

I got a better sense of my short-term goals:

  • Learn how to build your own distribution chains & engines: Get comfortable building skills across the fundamental value chain of being able to build your own distribution channels for information, hiring, and opportunities. I have grown a belief that any non-technical, non-subject matter expert, generalist needs to be able to build their own distribution channels.
  • Learn how to manage: Figure out how to identify intrinsic motivations in people and to align initiatives and resources with motivations. I have a very long article on this that I’ll post here when it’s out.
  • Learn how to go deep: Understanding one or two industries very well. I ended up diving into two areas that resonated strongly — consumer and financial technologies.

3 concepts I’ve used that I found really helpful:

  • Build Engines: When optimizing for X (Information, Hiring, etc), build inbound and outbound systems to help achieve your goal. I write more on this concept here.
  • Feynman Technique: Write a lot about what you’ve just learnt (like this article). You can find more of my writing on Medium.
  • Aggressively build a Favor Bank: Besides the obvious personal benefit, I believe in increasing the efficiency of the world. This also means that there will always exist a situation where energy by Person A in one endeavor will have 10x more effect than energy by Person B in the same endeavor. In another type of endeavor, the return on energy dynamic may be completely inversed. Favor banks are to human capital what the financial system is for the economy.

3 things I’m proud of:

  • Building communities to make the world a smaller place. I like building communities because it’s fundamentally an interesting problem to solve — incentive and value alignment and filtering with a non-linear pay-off once flywheel effects kick.
  • Helping others through building SEAcosystem.com, Shaper Impact Capital, GoodAdmissions.com. I’m really thankful for the hundreds of people I managed to work with in these various projects, some one-off, some multi-year platforms (and still going!), and also to work with folks passionate to help others because it was the right thing to do.
  • Retaining a sense of humour while working hard. I think taking yourself too seriously is one of the main causes of the ladder of screaming. I’m definitely guilty of that at times, so I’ve tried to be deliberate about having a sense of humour.

Elaborating on helping others and building communities

Other parts of my journey in the deferral years that I’m proud of, but probably means more to me than Internet strangers. Feel free to ping me about it though.

Other links

Chia Jeng Yang, Principal at Saison Capital, dives into consumer, SaaS, and fintech investment trends across the U.S. and Asia, builds projects in the venture capital and public policy space, works closely with early-stage (Pre-A) founders and can be contacted at jengyang.chia@gmail.com. Previous work here: http://chiajy.com

Principal @ Saison Capital | Consumer/fintech investing | Angel/Operator | work with smart people on projects: http://chiajy.com